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>> Sponsored by DB: William Kentridge in Jonhannesburg and the first Athens Biennial / Art in Private
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Mourning Work:
Deutsche Bank is sponsoring William Kentridge’s installation “Black Box / Chambre Noire” at the Johannesburg Art Gallery




William Kentridge, Untitled,
(drawing for Black Box/Chambre Noire), 2005
Photo: John Hodgkiss Deutsche Guggenheim, © William Kentridge

A dancing rhinoceros, paper figures that glide across a puppet theater stage as though moved by the hand of a ghost, the music of Mozart, animated charcoal drawings, and documentary film images – William Kentridge’s Black Box/Chambre Noire combines a highly aesthetic treatment with the investigation of a historical trauma. The subject of his multi-layered installation, in which the Freudian term "Trauerarbeit" or mourning work plays a central role, is the 1904 massacre on the Herero tribe by the German colonialists in German Southwest Africa, today Namibia.


William Kentridge, Untitled,
(drawing for Black Box/Chambre Noire), 2005
Photo: John Hodgkiss Deutsche Guggenheim, © William Kentridge

Now, Deutsche Bank is sponsoring the first presentation of Black Box/Chambre Noire in South Africa. The installation will be on show through July 9 at the country’s largest museum, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, founded in 1910. Kentridge’s miniature mechanical theater is accompanied by charcoal drawings and a large-scale wall painting that the artist created especially for the Johannesburg exhibition.



William Kentridge, Wall painting for the exhibition
Black Box/Chambre Noire, Johannesburg Art Gallery

Even at the exhibition opening, one could sense that Kentridge’s work deeply moves the public, especially in his home country of South Africa. 500 visitors came to the Johannesburg museum to see his Black Box. Not only the art public, but even the museum guards kept returning to the miniature theater to gaze at the oppressive and surreal images Kentridge has created in an effort to address a repressed chapter of German colonial history. Black Box/Chambre Noire refers to the horrendous crime troops of the Kaiserreich committed in 1904 in German Southwest Africa. The Herero tribe was almost completely extinguished in a massacre that German units painstakingly planned – some historians regard it as the first genocide of the 20th century.



William Kentridge, Black Box/Chambre Noire, 2005
Photo: John Hodgkiss Deutsche Guggenheim, © William Kentridge


Kentridge’s installation was created on commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim, where it was shown with overwhelming success from October 2005 to January of this year. The three levels of meaning in the title Black Box/Chambre Noire refer to the theater as the "black box", to the "chambre noire" or photographer’s darkroom, and to the black box that contains flight information documenting airplane catastrophes. For his point of departure, Kentridge chose Germany, the home country of the commissioning museum. Many of the artist’s works have researched the history of Africa and South Africa; beyond this, he has long felt connected to German culture and has produced works inspired by German artists or literary figures.


William Kentridge, Black Box/Chambre Noire, 2005
Photo: John Hodgkiss Deutsche Guggenheim, © William Kentridge



Kentridge’s investigation of the theme of German colonialism was also influenced by his involvement with Mozart’s Magic Flute, a production of which he was working on parallel to Black Box/Chambre Noire. His installation contains both the stage model as an object and the theme of the Enlightenment; it investigates the darker repercussions of the philosophical legacy of this era while reflecting upon the central process of inversion that often forms the focus of his works. The motif of the "Black Box" constitutes a background for the construction of history and meaning – for the process of grieving, crime and punishment, but also the shifting viewpoints concerning political commitment and responsibility.

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